German Shepherds are natural herders. In fact, the reason why this breed was first discovered was…
If you’re athletic and would like to engage in activities with your dog, there are several canine sports you can try. The best one to participate in depends on your preference as well as the athletic abilities of you and your dog. If you enjoy running and you think you have a dog that can keep up, you might want to consider Canicross.
This article will discuss what Canicross is, the type of equipment needed to participate, and how to get started.
What Is Canicross?
The name Canicross is a combination of canine and cross-country. It is part of a group of canine sports called urban mushing, which involves dogs pulling humans forward.
Whereas traditional mushing takes place on snow (ex., sledding), urban mushing takes place on dry land. Dogs that engage in this sport typically pull humans on a cart, on a scooter, on a bike, or on foot.
Canicross is the specific term for the dog-powered activity where humans are on foot. It began as a means to train and condition sled dogs until it developed into its own canine sport.
The primary objective of Canicross is for your dog to help pull you forward. Otherwise, you are simply running with or alongside your dog and not engaging in Canicross at all.
What Type Of Competitions / Awards Are There For Canicross?
Like typical races, Canicross events involve running trails at certain distances.
In the United States, trails are usually 3.5 miles long but humans and their canine partners can run trails on a loop and can go on for several hours. Across Europe where this sport is much more popular, there are events for 5K, 10K, and half-marathon distances. There are also fun runs that are much shorter.
Canicross awards depend on the event. Most competitions provide finisher medals and dog rosettes.
Others also provide special awards including cash prizes to podium finishers. In most cases, however, most participants compete against themselves by beating previous times and personal records.
Nowadays, there are also virtual Canicross events where you can sign up and set up a distance goal. You can track your run in an app like Strava and send proof to the event organizers.
Typically, these events are held to raise funds for dog-related charities and enable you to win participation medals as well as rosettes for your dog.
What Age Can Dogs Start Canicross?
Most competitions require dogs to be at least 12 months old to join. However, the best age to start participating in Canicross is around 18 months when dogs have typically reached maturity and their growth plates have closed.
Human participants must be at least 18 years old. Minors as young as 8 years old can join, but they must be accompanied by an adult.
What Training Do Dogs Need Before Starting Canicross?
Before engaging in Canicross, your dog must have mastered basic obedience cues and proper leash manners. Ideally, they would be able to walk outside without acting on distractions.
Additionally, they should have no reactivity issues, especially towards people and other dogs. Your dog should respect your handler status and you should be able to control your dog in any situation.
What Equipment Do You Need For Canicross?
The right equipment will help you engage in Canicross safely and reduce the risk of injuries for both you and your dog. Proper gear will also make the sport more enjoyable.
Here are your most important purchases if you want to get started in Canicross:
Not all dog harnesses are safe to use for Canicross. Ideally, you’ll get one designed specifically for Canicross, sledding, or pulling.
These will ensure proper pressure distribution and support. It will also keep from interfering with your dog’s shoulder movements and breathing. Additionally, it shouldn’t cause any chafing and soreness.
A bungee lead is an elastic cord that connects your dog’s harness to your waist so you don’t need to hold a leash while running. The elasticity minimizes shock on your back as well as your dog’s.
This won’t just make your runs more enjoyable but also keeps you both from developing Canicross-related injuries.
Runner’s Waist Belt
A specialized Canicross waist belt is usually wide at the back and sits at your hips. Although it is not absolutely necessary to use one, it helps minimize the impact on your back as your dog pulls you forward.
Ultimately, having a proper waist belt will give you the support you need to engage in this companion sport safely.
How To Start Canicross Training
If your dog is old enough and has shown excellent obedience and good leash behavior, you’re probably ready to try this sport. Here are the steps to get started in Canicross:
Step 1: Get Comfortable With Canicross Gear
Canicross gear can feel very different from the walking lead and collar your dog might be used to. Before even attempting a run, get the harness on, make sure it fits right, and see to it that your dog is comfortable.
Then, you can attach the bungee cord and connect it to your belt. Spend some time together this way until you’re both comfortable with the new arrangement.
Step 2: Train to Pull
If you often go out to walk or run, your dog might be used to staying alongside you. For Canicross, you want your dog to run ahead of you and actually pull you forward.
Most sled dogs and other working breeds will naturally excel at this, but you’ll need to provide lots of encouragement and reinforcement to let them know they’re doing it right.
Step 3: Train for Movement Cues
The gear used for Canicross doesn’t accommodate control and communication through leash pressure. So, you need to train your dog to master verbal commands.
For this sport, among the most useful commands are forward, stop, speed up, slow down, left, and right.
Step 4: Keep Going
When training for Canicross, it’s essential to start with short sessions but try to run regularly. Avoid the temptation of running for miles right away.
If your dog isn’t used to those distances, it’s essential to build up their stamina and make sure they’re conditioned for the sport before joining events and competitions.
Step 5: Join Clubs & Events
Running in groups is tons of fun, even if you’re not competing with one another. Try to find a Canicross club in your area to meet other dog-and-handler teams that are just as active as you.
When you think you and your dog are ready, start participating in events. Both in-person and virtual races will surely be tons of fun.
Training together and trying to do your best at every race will enable you to foster a close and fulfilling partnership with your dog.
Is Canicross Good For Dogs?
In general, engaging in canine sports and similar organized activities is wonderfully beneficial for all dogs. This is especially true for energetic working breeds like German Shepherds.
In particular, these are the most critical benefits of Canicross to dogs involved in this sport:
Canicross is a physically demanding sport. It keeps dogs active and in excellent physical condition. Over time, this activity will lead to better endurance and stamina.
Additionally, being able to burn off excess energy not only keeps dogs young and lean but also calm and well-mannered.
Although Canicross is primarily a physical sport, it is also mentally challenging. Not only does your dog need to navigate the track on the fly but they also need to listen for and follow your commands.
Throughout the run, your dog must also resist distractions and fight any urge that will get them off track. This extra stimulation helps your pup become a satisfied and well-adjusted dog.
For sledding and working dogs specifically, engaging in Canicross is an opportunity to do what they were meant for. They’re not just able to get their bodies in the best physical condition, but they’re also able to fulfill a role and use all the traits that are unique to their breed.
This is a huge part of raising a truly happy dog.
Being partners in Canicross means you’ll spend plenty of time with your dog. This type of activity also improves your communication and strengthens your bond.
Such a connection will translate to a better relationship not just on the track but at home as well.
Joining Canicross clubs and events will enable both you and your dog to meet new friends. Your dog will become accustomed to sharing space with various people and animals.
They’ll also get used to a variety of environments and situations. Canicross also opens up opportunities to travel and visit different trails together.
Are German Shepherds Good At Canicross?
German Shepherds are well suited for Canicross because of their athleticism and build. Their obedience and strong work drive also contribute to their ability to excel at this canine sport.
Since German Shepherds are prone to bone and joint issues, it’s critical to start rigorous training only when their growth plates have closed.
It is also essential to build up their stamina and condition them to run for longer and longer distances to minimize the risk of overheating and overtraining them.
Although many German Shepherds can excel at Canicross, if your GSD has issues that prevent them from running distances, you should consider some less taxing activities such as swimming, tracking, being a service dog, and giving them jobs around the house.
What Dog Breeds Are Best Suited For Canicross?
Although any dog can be trained to do Canicross, the best ones are large and naturally athletic breeds. Sledding dogs are particularly good at this sport because they were specifically developed and bred to run and pull.
Among the best sledding dogs for Canicross are Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Chinooks.
Canicross can be a wonderful activity to do with your dog. It will involve plenty of training that won’t just keep you both in shape but also in sync with one another. This could also be a job that keeps your dog on their best behavior and also enables them to live a happy and fulfilled life.